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Anglo-Saxons – In History, Culture Wars, and Media Coverage

Anglo-Saxons are in the news. That may be a surprise. But which Anglo-Saxons? There are three different ways of answering the question:

1. Anglo-Saxons in history
2. Anglo-Saxons in American history
3. Anglo-Saxons in the culture wars.

In this blog, I wish to examine what has been happening in the last few weeks in an amazing confluence of actions including the media coverage.


In the current issue of Archaeology magazine, Laetitia La Follete, president of the Archaeological Institute of America, wrote her “From the President” column on “SUTTON HOO AND THE DIG.” Here is the opening paragraph:

Archaeology fans around the world got a treat early this year with the release of the Netflix movie The Dig. Focused on the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship burial in Suffolk, England, on the eve of World War II, it tells the story of Mrs. Edith Pretty, a wealthy landowner who hired the polymath and self-taught archaeologist Basil Brown to excavate the mounds on her property. Once Brown realized he had found the remains of a ship, he and Pretty brought in a “dream team” of professionals, Peggy and Stuart Piggott among them, to methodically excavate Mound 1. The magnificent Anglo-Saxon royal ship burial and its opulent treasures that the team unearthed rewrote history. The finds’ glittering artistry, sophisticated design, and evidence of far-flung trade showed that the early seventh century in Britain was no Dark Ages.

The real Anglo-Saxons were a media phenomenon complete with a Netflix movie! La Follete announced in the column that in May she had interviewed Martin Carver, who oversaw the excavations from 1983-2005 under the auspices of the British Museum, the Society of Antiquaries and the BBC. Their mission: to give the site its context. What was a ship burial doing in seventh-cenury Suffolk: Why that? Why there? Why then? The interview was online so accessible to people around the world interested in Anglo-Saxons and/or archaeology. A second online lecture will be held June 24.

By coincidence, also in May a new book on the Anglo-Saxons was published.

The Anglo-Saxons: The Making of England: 410-1066 by Marc Morris

A quest for England’s origins

Sixteen hundred years ago, Britain left the Roman Empire and fell swiftly into ruin. Into this violent and unstable world came foreign invaders from across the sea, and established themselves as its new masters. The Anglo-Saxons traces the turbulent history of these people across the next six centuries. It explains how their earliest rulers fought relentlessly against each other for glory and supremacy. It explores how they abandoned their old gods for Christianity. It is a tale of famous figures like King Offa, Alfred the Great, and Edward the Confessor, but also features a host of lesser known characters. Through their remarkable careers we see how a new society, a new culture, and a single unified nation came into being.

Notice the timeframe: roughly from King Arthur to William the Conqueror, neither of whom was Anglo-Saxon. They are reminder of the presence of Celtics and Normans in England. One should add Vikings to the ethnic stew as well.

In an interview with Olivia Waxman, Time, medievalist Mary Rambran-Olin, an expert on race in early England, noted that even the early English did not call themselves Anglo-Saxons. The term developed in the 17th century as England wanted an origin story for its new empire.

If one has a genuine interest in Anglo-Saxons, just in the month of May there was a movie, interviews with an archaeologist and medievalist, and a new book from which to choose.


In the aftermath of the culture war Anglo-Saxons (see below), Washington Post published an article (4/26/21) by historian L.D. Burnett entitled “In the U.S, (sic) praise for Anglo-Saxon heritage has always been about white supremacy: Before the Civil War, Anglo-Saxonism was touted to defend slavery and conquest.” Burnett decries the “sinister use of Anglo-Saxonism” as nothing new. She wrote that the commingling of Anglo-Saxon blood and Anglo-Saxon tradition in the early 19th century was done in conjunction with the purported racial and intellectual superiority of White Americans.

Burnett researched the instances of newspaper usage of the term from 1800-1830 in the digitized newspaper database. The examples were few. “But between 1831 and 1840, the number of references to ‘Anglo-Saxon’ soared.” She attributes the dramatic increase first to the need of proslavery apologists contending with the moral and political pressure from the abolitionist movement. Second, she credits the increase due to the Texas war for independence which many Americans viewed in racial terms. Combined they led to an Anglo-Saxon racial manifest destiny to dominate the continent and the hemisphere. It was at this point that the designation of an ethnic group became divorced from its history and entered into the lexicon of American White racial superiority.

There is one slight flaw with this analysis of events in the 1830s. There is one event which she did not mention that calls into question her race-based interpretation. It can be summed up in two words:


Beginning in the 1830s, America experienced a demographic deluge by a people who were not considered to be white. The reaction by the English-speaking white people already here was much like the America First Caucus today. Here is an example from Samuel Morse (“Foreign Conspiracy against the Liberties of the United States,” 1835) prior to the invention of the telegraph when the Hudson Valley was being overrun by the wrong sorts of people:

Foreign immigrants are flocking to our shores in increased numbers, two thirds at least are Roman Catholics, and of the most ignorant classes, and thus pauperism and crime are alarmingly increased. . . . The great body of emigrants to this country are the hard-working, mentally neglected poor of Catholic countries in Europe, who have left a land where they were enslaved, for one of freedom. . . .[T]hey are not fitted to act with the judgment in the political affairs of their new country, like native citizens, educated from their infancy in the principles and habits of our institutions. Most of them are too ignorant to act at all for themselves, and expect to be guided wholly by others [the priests].

Morse’s ire against a supposed great papal conspiracy was, if not a majority opinion at the time, very popular. As always, the vote was the key:

we must have the [naturalization] law so amended that no FOREIGNER WHO MAY COME INTO THIS COUNTRY, AFTER THE PASSAGE OF THE NEW LAW, SHALL EVER BE ALLOWED EXERCISE THE ELECTIVE FRANCHISE. This alone meets evil in its fullest extent.

Sound familiar?

People define themselves in opposition to the “Other.” In the United States in the 1830s, the “Other” were the Irish Catholics and the true or real Americans were the Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

Again by coincidence, in May there was a new book out on the Irish in America: The Fires of Philadelphia: Citizen-Soldiers, Nativists, and the 1844 Riots Over the Soul of a Nation by Zachary M. Schrag.

In 1844 America was in a state of deep unrest, grappling with xenophobia, racial, and ethnic tension on a national scale that feels singular to our time, but echoes the earliest anti-immigrant sentiments of the country. In that year Philadelphia was set aflame by a group of Protestant ideologues — avowed nativists — who were seeking social and political power rallied by charisma and fear of the Irish immigrant menace.

For these men, it was Irish Catholics they claimed would upend morality and murder their neighbors, steal their jobs, and overturn democracy. The nativists burned Catholic churches, chased and beat people through the streets, and exchanged shots with a militia seeking to reinstate order. In the aftermath, the public debated both the militia’s use of force and the actions of the mob. Some of the most prominent nativists continued their rise to political power for a time, even reaching Congress.

The book is an account of the moment one of America’s founding cities turned on itself over the issue of immigration.

Schrag wrote about this in a blog for HNN in May, “In 1844, Nativist Protestants Burned Churches in the Name of Religious Liberty.” The subject of the Irish including before the 1830s was a three part series in New York Almanack by John Warren. One wonders how Burnett failed to mention the Irish in her column on the 1830s and why the Washington Post failed to catch such a glaring omission.

One final observation on the use of Anglo-Saxon before turning to the America First Caucus. During congressional debate over the 1924 Immigration Act, Senator Ellison DuRant Smith of South Carolina, said the following:

Thank God we have in America perhaps the largest percentage of any country in the world of the pure, unadulterated Anglo-Saxon stock; certainly the greatest of any nation in the Nordic breed. It is for the preservation of that splendid stock that has characterized us that I would make this not an asylum for the oppressed of all countries, but a country to assimilate and perfect that splendid type of manhood that has made America the foremost Nation in her progress and in her power, and yet the youngest of all the nations.

In this immigration debate, Africans in America were not the issue. The Irish in America were not the issue either anymore. Instead the demographic deluge that was feared mainly was the people called ethnics from southern and eastern Europe. They were the new “Other” to be feared as Adam Server, The Atlantic, wrote:

Nativists needed a way to explain why these immigrants—Polish, Russian, Greek, Italian, and Jewish—were distinct from earlier generations, and why their presence posed a danger.


Now we turn to the media sensation that launched the Anglo-Saxon “15 minutes” of media coverage, the America First Caucus. There are three obvious reasons why the simple-minded Anglo-Saxon Caucus was doomed from the start:

Kevin McCarthy
Rudy Giuliani
Jared Kushner.

Did you hear the one about an Irish, Italian, and Jew who attended an America First Caucus? Perhaps one should add Sean Hannity to the list.

True, identity politics includes white people, too, but even a shred of thinking would have revealed the fallacy of this particular effort. In addition at the very moment Democrats are finally starting to realize that they do not have a monopoly on the vote of non-European immigrants and that these people do not necessarily accept the all-race all-the-time emphasis of the Woke, the America First Caucus is politically counterproductive.

In summary, one cannot help but notice the differing coverages of the current Anglo-Saxon contretemps.  One could choose from new books by scholars on the topic or watch a movie/interview. One could read responsible articles in Atlantic and Time about Anglo-Saxons in America. Or one could partake a politically-corrected view of history in the Washington Post.

Bonus question: One hundred years from on a history test you are asked to explain why American nativists were not Native Americans without laughing. What would you write?

Biden Becomes America’s Second Indigenous President: Who Knew?

Plantations In Ireland Due to English Settler Colonialism (Wikipedia)

Joe Biden has become America’s second Indigenous President. John Kennedy was the first. Who knew?

It turns out based on the definition of “Indigenous” as an academic construct both the Irish and the Jews are Indigenous.

No general, internationally accepted definition of indigenous peoples exists. It is typical of indigenous populations that they do not represent the dominant population in the larger society of which they are part, although they may be the population group that inhabited the area first.

These “Indigenous” people also may compose the majority of the population in a given political entity as long as they are in a subordinate position. The critical component is the presence of a dominant population. Without a dominant population having victimized a weaker people, there effectively is no “Indigenous” people.

Part of the confusion over the meaning of the term occurs due to the different ways in which “Indigenous” is used. First of all, it does not mean “indigenous.” People who are labelled “Indigenous” do not necessarily live on their ancestral homeland. There is no correlation between being an “Indigenous” people in the politically-correct sense and being ‘indigenous” in the traditional sense of local or native.  However, in the popular usage, “Indigenous” means “we were here before the dominant people came here and victimized us” including when the “here” means being displaced to somewhere else.

A second issue with “Indigenous” is with the academic construct itself.  In the article “Settler Colonial Prehistories in Seventeenth-Century Century North America” (William and Mary Quarterly 76 2019), Susanah Shaw Romney notes that the related term “settler colonialism” remains a scholarly concept most widely used for the post-1800 English-speaking world. Shaw cautions Americanists to take heed of how scholars in distant fields use the term as will be shown below. She also cautions that terms may be applied when they are inappropriate such as with the seventeenth-century Dutch in New York, her own area of scholarship. This overuse problem with the application of the term will be addressed in a forthcoming blog. In the previous blog and this one, the issue is the underuse of the terms and not the overuse.

One byproduct revealed here is the frequent limitation of the application of “Indigenous” to being directed against white people, most notably English and American. This results in the undermining of the academic construct although not in the popular usage. As shown in the previous blog, Bantu settler colonialism against other people in Africa which occurred without any involvement of white people tends to be overlooked in Indigenous studies as not being relevant. In this blog, the same situation occurs in the Middle East and Europe further rendering that academic construct suspect due to its restricted application.


On October 25, I was viewing the Indigenous History Conference. When the session ended, I zoomed over to another conference, this one entitled “The Land that I Will Show You” Recent Archaeological & Historical Studies of Ancient Israel hosted by NYU. Notice how one conference includes the name of the people and the other does not. The speaker at the second conference when I zoomed was Yifat Thareani, New York University Tel Aviv, Hebrew Union College. She is an Israeli archaeologist. Her topic was “In Praise of the Conquered: Identity Making in Israel and Judah in the Face of Assyrian Rule.”

I missed the beginning of her presentation, but when I began listening partway through, I heard her say she was talking about Israelites as an indigenous people suffering from settler colonialism. The very same terms used in the Indigenous Conference were being used in the Ancient Israel Conference only this time they involved ancient Assyria and Israel and not Americans and Indians.

If you are not familiar with the situation, here is what happened. In 722/721 BCE, Assyria destroyed the kingdom of Israel. The defeated Israelites then endured three fates:

1. One group was taken captive to Assyria, the so-called 10 Lost Tribes, with part of that group, particularly the chariot force, being incorporated into the Assyrian army.
2. A second group fled the country and became refugees in Judah.
3. The third Israelite group remained on the land in Israel as a remnant people or Indigenous.

After the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE by the Babylonians, the refugee group and the Judeans went through their own division into exile in the Diaspora, refugees such as to Egypt, or remaining on the land. In fact the biblical term for the remnant population is “people of the land,” a very Indigenous-sounding designation.

The Assyrians not only moved people out of the country conquered, they also move replacement settlers into the now depopulated country as part of their settler colonialism policy. In 716 BCE, the relocated people into the former kingdom of Israel included Arabs. In the archaeological record, this 716 BCE forced settlement is the first known instance of the Arab people living in what would later be called Palestine named after the non-Semitic Philistine people.

What happened to this mix of Indigenous Israelite people and the resettled peoples including the Arabs? Best guess is that they intermarried and became known later as Samaritans. These Samaritans continue to live on the land to this very day as a small remnant population.

People probably are more familiar with the Arab settler colonialism which occurred 1400 years later in the 7th century AD. That settler colonialism occurred throughout the Middle East from modern Iraq to Morocco. In its wake various remnant populations have survived struggling to maintain their language and culture. They include the following peoples who trace their presence in the land to prior to Arab settler colonialism although there has been intermarriage:

Palestinian Samaritans
Palestinian Jews
Palestinian Christians
Lebanese Christians
Iraqi Assyrians (Christians)
Egyptian Copts

In a print-article entitled “The Trap of Loyalty” on the Syrian Alawites, Robert F. Worth of the New York Times quotes two people he interviewed as follows:

“We are Mesopotamian, not Arabic. We don’t want to be Arabic.”
“It’s like your riots in Detroit in 1967. They [the Syrian rebels] are like losers ⸺ not good people. Like blacks in the U.S.A.”

These rebels referred to as “barbarians” were mainly the Sunni people who were leading the rebellion. It’s astonishing to witness when the eyes of the world are upon us, what exactly they see and remember. It also is a reminder that the putdown of the “other” as “savages” is not limited to white people and Indians as will be shown again below when the subject turns to the Celtic people.

Arab settler colonialism like Bantu settler colonialism falls outside the normal purview of Indigenous studies as a politically-correct doctrine but within the purview of Indigenous studies as an academic discipline.


When the scene shifts to Europe, one finds the same dilemma – how to reconcile Indigenous studies as a politically-correct doctrine versus developing it into academic discipline where white people can be both the victim and the perpetrator of settler colonialism.

Shortly after I read the “Exchange” in the journal of the American Historical Association which initiated this thread of blogs, I read an article in Archaeology, the magazine of the Archaeological Institute of America (I am president of the Westchester NY chapter) entitled “Resisting Rome: How a Celtic tribe fought to defend their Iberian homeland against the emperor’s legions.”

The article was about an archaeological excavation of a site that had resisted Rome and then was destroyed. The Cantabrian people were described by Roman writers as “savage, uncivilized, and overwhelming belligerent in nature.” In other words, they were depicted in the standard terms people have been using for thousands of years to denigrate the proverbial “Other.” This terminology has nothing to do with race, ethnicity, or any other characteristic except that the people are the enemy other and are shown as subhuman.

The Hun versus Lady Liberty (Recruiting Poster

This famous recruiting poster from World War I shows the German Huns as barbarians of the first order in response to the atrocities they committed in Belgium. In the world at large, Indians were not first or only people to be called savages.

The victimization of the Celtic people first by Rome and then by the English falls within the guidelines for “Indigenous” people. One may observe the English royal plantations established in Ireland in the map above. This colonization including the area now known as Northern Island fits the definition. One critical difference between Israel and Ireland and the American Indian peoples is that the first two now are independent political entities whereas the third have reservations.

Here we may observe the challenge facing Indigenous studies with settler colonialism. Is its primary purpose to be an academic discipline where it can be applied globally in both the past and present to all peoples of the earth? Or is its primary purpose to be a weapon in the culture wars deployed against white people especially Americans and English? Is it possible for (some) scholars to prefer the former while (some) scholars and woke general public to prefer the other?

This issue came to a crux in the Exchange in the journal of the American Historical Association that started this thread. In a review of the book Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War by Lisa Brooks, reviewer David Silverman commented on her “speculative demonizations of the English” in contrast to her downplaying of intra-Indian violence [for the treatment of violence see the blog Violence and Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS)]. In an academic context, Silverman well may be right in his observation but in a politically-correct context he is exactly wrong. As a warrior in the culture wars, Brooks did what she is supposed to do. She even garnered acclaimed for her prowess as a warrior in defending her people and castigating the enemy white people.

Oh, you think I have crossed some line here, do you? Then take Columbus Day. Suppose you decide to topple his statue and rename the day. What name would you use? Would you call it “Indian Heritage Day”? No! Of course not! But why not? Indians are the people whose heritage is being celebrated. They don’t object to the term. They were called that for centuries. Why erase it? Why “Disappear” the Indian?

The answer is simple. How many white people would rally to the cause on behalf of “Indian Heritage Day”? Try “Zero.” Indian is a name. It has no moral connotations. It exists independently of any other people. By contrast, Indigenous is not a name but a part of a relationship. It takes two. There were no Indigenous people in what became the United States before the arrival of white people according to the definition. To be Indigenous requires a dominant people who victimized you. You can be an Indian before the arrival of the white people but you can’t become Indigenous until after they do.

To be Indigenous implies that you were here first which means another people came here second. It means the land belongs to you, and that white people need to repent America’s second original sin. White people will rally to that call. White people have rallied to that cause of the Indigenous in a way they would not for Indians. At least some white people have. For others that call is a mircroaggression that alienates them from wanting to consider the legitimate concerns of the Indian people. So what. Who cares what they think. Those “Other” people are backward.